Cuddles & Bubbles

Welcome to day 8 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society.  Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.

Then there’s sex. Usually better in a motel or hotel than at home, but why? Boundary blurring of private-public? Some kind of taboo related to adultery (commonly practiced in motel rooms exactly because they’re not quite private or public), a trespass (temporary usage of a space that’s not mine), that sense of anonymity or of feeling I’m not quite the me I usually am (or that you are not quite your ordinary you) — are we idealised and idealising, or is it just that the thought of a stranger is more exciting than the familiarity of each other? Is it that it’s a break in the routine, whether a different time, the different place, different bed, or some other aspect? A reminder of brothels and motels that can be rented for an hour, even if you’re there for three days on a straightforward business trip or for a funeral?

“… the North American roadside, a place underwritten by the values and desires of a cultural system that anxiously balances the competing aims of instant gratification and moral purity.” (on “Dreamland Motels” and Freud, at Motel Register)

Elizabeth Hornbeck, in her essay on Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel in his novel The Shining (in Stephen King and Philosophy, Jacob Held, 2016), is articulate in her description of hotels as places, heterotopias, where non-normative and transgressive acts can occur, activity that subverts normal social roles and rules. She notes first that Michel Foucault “describes motel rooms as heterotopias ‘where illicit sex is totally protected and totally concealed at one and the same time, set apart and yet not under an open sky.'”


While Foucault does not mention hotels in his essay [“The Order of Things,” in which he does mention brothels], they satisfy his description of the heterotopia of deviance because of the unique kind of social space they offer. Hotels bring together individuals whose paths might not normally cross, and they create relationships and social hierarchies new to those individuals — relationships and hierarchies that do not always correspond to the individuals’ ‘normal’ relationships outside the hotel. In subverting the status quo, they are fundamentally political spaces in the broadest sense. …

“The family home … constrains the parent-child relationship, the spousal relationship, intergenerational relationships, and so forth, all according to socially defined roles. Breaking away from those norms is facilitated by leaving the normative space of ‘home’ and entering the subversive space of heterotopia. …. Heterotopias undermine our sense of ordering, defining, and understanding, and hence to some extent controlling, the spaces we occupy.  Unlike their counterparts, normative spaces, heterotopias are spaces where the transgressive can take place without censure.”


“Magic fingers” were all the rage at the classy places we went to as kids on family trips.


My sisters and I always put quarters in the slot and enjoyed the good vibrations. I shudder when I think about what was probably on the sheets and comforters. (The Flamingo Motel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho had some of the last working units in 2012, still only 25 cents a go.)



I’m pretty sure I also know what’s floating around in the “jacuzzi built for two” and it’s not any kind of aphrodisiac. (This International Inn & Suites is in Hyannis, Cape Cod, MA. Their URL is “”)


“Hotel rooms constitute a separate moral universe.'”– Tom Stoppard

It’s not exactly a motel, but it may as well be: This scene with Goldie Hawn and Dudley Moore in Foul Play is a gleaming model for all things sleazy motelish. The liquor cabinet and bad drinks, the strobing lights, the BeeGees, the sudden arrival of the sex dolls, the naked women paintings and the porn film projected on the wall, the heralded hidden bed and mirrored neon-lights ceiling, tambourines, binoculars, his coy preening and prancing. Then his utter humiliation and shame when he’s scolded and the lights come on. It’s a classic!



‘People cannot stand victims’

Jessica Stern was interviewed on Word of Mouth on NHPR yesterday. The former National Security Council staffer and Harvard lecturer is an expert on terrorism, having interviewed terrorists and extremists around the world and written two scholarly books on violent extremism.

She is also a rape victim. When she was 15 and her sister 14,  they were raped in their Concord, MA, home at gunpoint by a stranger. Her father (who was overseas at the time) and the local police found the rapes implausible and downplayed them, and even Stern herself pushed the rape quickly out of her conscious mind, where it remained for 30 years.

Now, she’ s written Denial: A Memoir of Terror, a book about the rape and about trauma and terror.

What most interested me in her interview were her comments on victims. First she said that most of her academic peers have “utterly ignored this work. … Mostly people just don’t say anything.”  This led directly to a question about shame, to which Stern responded:

“There is something about rape that is so hard to talk about, even today. One of the reasons that I am doing this is because I sort of , I hit a limit in terms of my anger about how hard it is to talk about this. People cannot stand victims. I think that because I’ve shown myself to be kind of a tough cookie, I almost feel an obligation to reveal myself as a victim, because people can’t really put me in a box of  a weak, cowering victim. … It seems to be a dark side of human nature, that we really don’t like victims of rape.

In an article at aolnews, she’s quoted as saying, about her reluctance to write this book, “I was afraid nobody would ever take me seriously again. I have written about perpetrators, not victims. And it’s so personal. And there’s an element of shame that’s hard to get away from.”

This is certainly true for rape victims, that there is a a sense of shame about being a victim (to the point of ‘honour’ killings of girls and women who have been raped in some regions of the world, as she notes); the shame is also present for and about people who have cancer and other serious illnesses, those with physical disfigurement, and others who are victims because their bodies have been forcibly invaded, compromised, attacked — as is literally true of rape victims, and often spoken of in these terms in relation to people with cancer or who have a heart attack.

Is our shame about physical victim-hood — about our vulnerable bodies, about not being able to control what happens to our bodies — simply due to a fear of our own mortality? Are we just ashamed to be mortal?  Or is there something else going on here?

Recent Reading: Aggression, Retaliation, Memories, Stories, Attraction, Identity, Social Norms, Neural Avalanches

Well, I’m back to my old habit of reviewing a bunch of online reading at once. These all relate to how we think, how the mind works.


** How To Make Women Less Picky: Short answer:  make them the initiators and/or rivals.

This was a speed dating study where, contrary to the usual way it’s done, the men were sitting at tables and the women were moving from table to table trying to impress and win a date:

“Regardless of gender, people who were required to approach a date were less picky than people who were seated.”

One explanation is that “whoever makes the first move has more invested in a positive outcome.”That sounds reasonable to me.

As does the explanation put forth by the study’s author, who thinks that this is a case of people being “attracted to those who attract others,” i.e., the mimetic theory concept that the value of an object increases when it’s perceived to be an object that others desire.

As Sager summarises: “The guys seemed more attractive because so many other women appeared interested in them. While rotating men might appear desperate, seated men seem desired.”

(Nice motto.)


** Enhancement of Core Identity: The results of  a (2-yr-old) study seem to show that “the more people considered a feature to be a key part of their identity, the less they wanted to improve it.”

And from this study, Robin Hanson suggests extrapolating:

“I suspect something similar holds for beliefs: the more important a belief is to our identity, the less eager we are to improve that belief via evidence or analysis.

While I agree that his extrapolation is likely true (and from a mimetic theory standpoint it is: we have a vested interest in seeing ourselves as originals whose beliefs express our true self), I’m not so sure that the original table can be explained in this way. I’m inclined to agree with what one commenter said:

“A more likely possibility is that most of the respondents believe — rightly or wrongly — that they have just enough kindness, empathy etc., thank you very much. Whereas we have all felt the frustration of bad reflexes, wonky memory and drowsiness and are willing to admit so to ourselves.”

That’s the first thing that occurred to me when I looked at the identity attributes: Most people think — or want to think — that they are nice enough, whatever their relative level of niceness. Because (a), what we want is an edge on other people, and more niceness (kindness, empathy, self-control) doesn’t seem to offer that, and (b), we don’t want to admit to ourselves or anyone else that we are deficient in kindness, empathy, and self-control, because then we seem to have something in common with sociopaths, and we don’t want to admit we’re deficient in self-confidence because then we seem like losers who don’t have anything to be confident about. But admitting we’re deficient in memory or language skills? Meh. No biggie. Those are skills, not traits.


** Another one from Overcoming Bias: 40% of U.S. Moms Unwed. What’s interesting here isn’t the mere statistic (whose validity and expression is debated in the comments, as always) but the interpretation Hanson offers: we’re creating more sexually aggressive men who will spend more time signaling their dominance:

“The new equilibrium we are moving toward seems a very different world.  Women free to pick a dad without expecting him to stay as a long term helper probably pick sexier men.  … Women would get to have kids fathered by sexier men, but at the expense of raising those kids with less male help.  More men would be sex-failures with more free time to pursue long-shot plans to reverse their fortunes, and without wives to moderate them.  How many of those plans will be peaceful?

Well. I would never have thought of this! Hmm.

And, on the other hand, as commenters point out, a significant percentage of the increase in single moms may come from moms who are not married but who are in marriage-like long-term relationships with men, as it’s become more socially acceptable to do so. So more men may be safely under the moderating care of a woman (!) than the interpretation assumes.


** Contagion: Social Norm Psychology is a Potent Anti-violence Vaccine. More mimetic theory at work. David DiSalvo reports on Cease-Fire, an ambitious  program used in cities to reduce violent crime:

The program is based on the idea that killing is a disease psychologically transmitted from one person to another, particularly in economically deprived areas.  The program employs a unique psychological angle, in that it chiefly targets potential retaliators of violence rather than all potential perpetrators of violence.”

(Funny, Jesus famously did the same thing.)

DiSalvo notes that the program is based on the idea that social norms determine our actions and he cites another study that uses MRIs and punishment threat applied to fairness norms to explore the brain science and neural networks of  social conformity in young males.

From the intro and discussion sections of that study:

“The dissolution of obedience to prevailing norms occurs because people often comply with social norms conditional on others’ compliance (Fischbacher et al., 2001). Thus, even a minority of noncompliers can trigger a process that induces widespread defection from prevailing norms … due to the conditional nature of many people’s compliance.”

That’s obvious to anyone driving on the highway. A common scenario I find is that everyone is driving along apace until one car comes speeding by in the far left or far right lane. (It can even be a police car.) Seconds later, someone pulls out of the line and zips off following it, then perhaps another.  Within a minute, the pace of most all the cars has increased a little.

Perhaps the second car had been chomping at the bit for a while to speed up, and the first speeding car has provided radar cover to do it (cover to the front, anyway), but what about the rest of the cars? The rest are probably speeding up simply because, in a semi-conscious way, we perceive that ‘everyone else’ is, and we’re primed to do it because of the conditional nature of our compliance in the first place: many of us think speed limits are artificially low,  or meant for ‘bad’ drivers who are always other people, or unnecessary in a free society, etc.  So, we are ready to defect and given the slightest stimulus, we do.

And from the summary of that same study, “lateral orbitofrontal cortex activity is strongly correlated with Machiavellian personality characteristics.” ! Machiavellian traits — ‘a combination of selfishness and opportunism” — are measured with, yes, a Machiavelli questionnaire developed in 1970.


** Disorderly Genius: How Chaos Drives the Brain in New Scientist.Our brains are like sandpiles, earthquakes, wildfires, and avalanches, both critical and self-organising, characterised by “periods of stability followed by catastrophic periods of instability that rearrange the system into a new, temporarily stable state.”

“…In reality, your brain operates on the edge of chaos. … The neuronal avalanches” that occur when a neuron fires and triggers another one to fire “are perfect for transmitting information across the brain. If the brain was in a more stable state, these avalanches would die out before the message had been transmitted. If it was chaotic, each avalanche could swamp the brain. At the critical point, however, you get maximum transmission with minimum risk of descending into chaos. …

“Hovering on the edge of chaos provides brains with their amazing capacity to process information and rapidly adapt to our ever-changing environment, but what happens if we stray either side of the boundary? The most obvious assumption would be that all of us are a short step away from mental illness. Meyer-Lindenberg suggests that schizophrenia may be caused by parts of the brain straying away from the critical point. However, for now that is purely speculative.”

These neuronal avalanches may play a role in memory:


“certain chains of neurons would fire repeatedly in avalanches, sometimes over several hours. …  Because an entire chain can be triggered by the firing of one neuron, these chains could be the stuff of memory…; memories may come to mind unexpectedly because a neuron fires randomly or could be triggered unpredictably by a neuronal avalanche.


** And more on memory, from an often lovely and moving essay (marred in places by sounding like an offhand apologetic for abusers and a polemic against memoirists in particular and writers in general) by Joseph Bottum at First Things, titled The Judgment of Memory:

“[T]he logic of human imagination always joins what might be with what has already been, every possible future somehow dependent on the past. Anyone can cure a patient’s neurosis, an old psychoanalysts’ joke runs. All you have to do is travel back in time and change the way his parents were treated as children. … We do so much in vain, attempting with memory to repair the broken past—as though we might arrange thereby a perfect future, as though the Eden we lost at the beginning is the same as the Heaven we must find at the end.

“Every memoir of childhood is necessarily overshadowed by parents, and I could find, were I to turn my mind that way, stories of my father’s drinking, his pretension, his bounce.

“But my father, being dead, is not here either to be triumphed over by my telling of those stories or to defend himself against them. The death of parents leaves their honor in their children’s hands, and the cruel accuracies we might fling in anger against them while they are alive seem even more wrong to use against them once they are gone.  …

Memory may be our best tool for self-understanding, but only when we remember how weak a tool it really is: prone to warping under the narrative drive of storytelling, vulnerable to self-interest, susceptible to outside influence.” …

“Leaping from a particular moment to some great universal claim about the way things always were, memory is false, even when it’s true — maybe especially when it’s true, maybe especially at the moment we think we’ve finally gotten the story right.”

Bottum’s further description of the geography of storytelling and memory so matches my experience and observation, and it’s probably what makes me doubt the integrity or the wholeness of most storytelling that purports to be true, and especially of stories that claim to be “not just a story but the story, the overarching master tale that explains everything away.” (Some might say that the Bible does this, but I think it’s we who tend to use it to explain; its format of letters, myth, songs, narrative, laws, dialogue, etc., and its obvious brokenness in time are hardly conducive to providing a single explanation.)

It may be why I find poetry to be a more reliable vehicle for truth, because it consists of crevices, disconnections, missing pieces, “extraneous bits,” and finds its significance in the incidental; because each poem is a reflection of a truth, never a satisfactory explanatory summing up.

As Bottum himself sums up:

“The simple truth of autobiography is this: The accurate details of memory do not come naturally packaged into stories. You have to take a hammer and beat them into shape, a little.”

Musing about Fashion

NPR’s story about the ‘Models as Muses’ fashion show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art got my attention yesterday. The idea is that models are “muses” for entire generations.

It’s good to be reminded that models as cultural icons didn’t exist 60 years ago, that ‘super’ models didn’t exist 30 years ago. And, it’s interesting to note that although fashion photography poses and styles remain much the same over the years (see this review, which argues, with images as evidence, that much of fashion photography is derivative) and body standards haven’t changed significantly, either (slenderness, with and without curves, rules the day), models used to range in height much more in the past than now; one major model of the 1950s, Dorian Leigh, was 5’4″.

The curators in the NPR interview note that in the 1920s, models were tall and angular. Post-World War II fashion poses , in the 1940s and 1950s, exemplified “rarefied, haughty sophistication.” Look, but don’t touch. In the 1960s, models were photographed in sensual and sexy poses, with come-hither looks. The 1960s was also the decade of models like Twiggy, the “lanky, androgynous fashion icon.

In the 1970s, female sexuality was “essentially unleashed” with “models posing in sexually aggressive ways.” An example is Lisa Taylor “in a 1975 shot by Helmut Newton, essentially inverting the male gaze.” She sits with her legs wide open, looking at a headless man with “a sense of entitlement”, which outraged people and caused them to cancel their Vogue magazine subscriptions.  (You can see the image if you scroll down a ways in Jezebel’s negative review of the exhibit.)

In the 1980s, we began to know models by name — Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, “the ultimate hood ornaments of 1980s excess. … The models [were] sometimes more important than the clothing.” This is obviously true now, with TV shows like the CW’s “America’s Next Top Model,” TVLand’s “She’s Got the Look,” Bravo’s “Make Me a Supermodel,” TLC’s “A Model Life”, and probably others.

In reaction, after “the perfection and apotheosis of the supermodel” in the late 1980s, came the mannerist and “sloppy elegance of grunge” of the 1990s, with models like Kate Moss (also short by modeling standards, at approximately 5’7″), Kristin McMenamy, and later, Alek Wek, who together “really expand the idea of what it meant to be beautiful.” The curator describes this period  as “a complete breakdown of the normative ideals of  fashion and beauty.”

This seems to be rather overstating the case, as the models’ bodies and faces, which are meant to epitomise ideal beauty, are very thin, rather androgynous, with ‘attenuated’ limbs and torso, and not unlike Twiggy’s 30 years earlier.

I’m Apparently A Man

I have a lot of the attributes of the ideal man. Except this one:

“A man gets the door. Without thinking.”

I don’t. Neither does the (other) man who lives in this house. Probably best not to come to our door unless we expect you.  Until the dog learns how to open the door. She’d like to.

Taking the Cure: Raping Virgins

“Like many young girls in Zimbabwe, Hope was the victim of a widely held belief that if a man with HIV or AIDS rapes a virgin he will be cured of his disease. This so-called virgin myth, perpetuated by Zimbabwe’s traditional healers, has led to the rape of hundreds of girls, according to UNICEF. Some of those victims are too young to walk….”

More at CNN.

Recent Reading: 1 May: Torture, Poverty, Fear, Obit, Beauty, Orgasm, Cocktail

>>We’re All Torturers Now. Dahlia Lithwick at Slate asks whether anything about the U.S. torture scandal will ever scandalize us again? She compares the U.S. public’s response to the Abu Ghraib abuse in 2004 to our response to news of current prisoner abuse by waterboarding, sleep deprivation, throwing prisoners into walls, locking them in small boxes with insects, etc. She concludes:

“We have become so casual about torture that we now openly debate its efficacy — something nobody would have dared do in the first days after Abu Ghraib. The fight playing out between the left and the right now isn’t ‘Did we water-board?’ We already knew we did. It is barely even ‘Was it legal?’ Virtually nobody seriously argues that it was. The fight we are having in America now is ‘Did it work?’ And if we manage to persuade ourselves that torture does work, whether it’s legal or even moral will no longer matter. And such tactics will never be able to horrify us again.”

Along with this, the results of a poll showing that church-going white Evangelicals are more likely than the rest of the American public to approve of torture. It doesn’t surprise me that Christians who believe in a satisfaction theory of atonement and a retributive apocalypse would support torture as valid. What seems like just as big news to me is that more than 70% of Americans generally believe that torture can be justified.


>>Poverty persists, and so does wealth. Family-of-origin poverty is a better predictor of future financial status  than school success or college degree:

“Two thirds of the kids with average math scores and low-income parents wind up not going to college, while almost two-thirds of high-income kids with average math scores do go.”


“A child from a family in the top income quintile who does not get a college degree is more likely to wind up in the top income quintile himself than a child from a family in the bottom income quintile who does get a college degree.”

More at Conde Nast‘s and at Matt Yglesias’s blog.


>> Susan Boyle: Lots of analysis of her popularity. I like this one (two):

Explaining Susan Boyle, at Neuroworld, quoting from Mark Blankenship at the Huffington Post:

” … this clip enacts a story that we want to be true. No matter how much we mock those we consider beneath us, it’s much more satisfying to be reminded that everyone has dignity.

“That’s because when we laugh at someone for being a freak, we’re laughing out of fear. We’’e laughing because we want to prove that we are not like that loser over there. If we can shame the people who don’t belong, then we can prove that we do.

“When we embrace an outsider, though, we’re paving the way for our own acceptance in the future. Eventually, we’ll all feel like outcasts, and none of us wants to be laughed at. The Susan Boyle Story suggests we won’t be.”

That sounds plausible, but I also agree with Ryan’s comment:

“The phony sentimentality masks a basic truth of human nature:  No one cares if you can sing if you’re ugly. You can be a reality show freak for a few weeks, but people want their pop stars pretty.”


>> Obituary writing, and a comparison of Herman Melville’s (1891) with that of Richard Topus (2009), a pigeon trainer in World War II.


>>Female Orgasm as Screening. News you can use.

Among Japanese macaque monkeys, the highest frequency of female orgasms “took place when high-ranking males were copulating with low-ranking females, and the lowest between low-ranking males and high-ranking females.”  It’s theorised that this is because the high-ranking males take their time, not having to constantly scan for competitors like lower-ranking monkeys do, and there’s even less worry when they’re spreadin’ the luv with a (less widely desirable) low-ranking female. … “Maybe, [female orgasm] is designed to be more than a little hard to get, adaptive precisely because it can’t be too readily summoned, so that when it arrives, it means something.”


>> A walk-in cocktail! And it’s a gin and tonic! “Forty minutes in here apparently equates to drinking one gin and tonic.” Unfortunately for me, it’s in the UK.